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A few minutes into the documentary, Lyllou Chevalier questions our ethics by opposing the terms legitimacy and legality. Let’s start by clarifying these two concepts. Legality is defined as anything that is in accordance with the current law, as what is authorised by the rules applicable in a given area. Legitimacy is defined as something that is deemed fair, it refers to what is consistent with morals, truth and justice. Further explored in Topic 8, this comparison is reminiscent of comments made by Corine Pelluchon with regard to law and justice for animals. Getting back to the concepts of legitimacy and legality, it seems ethically necessary that both are in keeping with each other. But what happens if that’s not the case? Is a subordinate relationship then created between legitimacy and legality?


In 1690, John Locke wrote: “... whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience.” One hundred years later, the United States Declaration of Independence stated that “...when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them [citizens] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Thus, the concept of legality doesn’t hold as much weight if legitimacy is contested. Lyllou Chevalier, therefore, reminds us that in terms of hierarchy, moral conscience ranks higher than official laws. Unlike the early essays of Montaigne or Pascal on the “mystical foundation of the authority of laws”, the force of law isn’t about being a law, but about being legitimate. And if laws no longer apply or the lines between legality and legitimacy are too blurred, resistance therefore becomes a moral duty! The challenge now lies in identifying the safeguards to improve (or reinvent) our democracies without destroying them or plunging into social chaos...


We can identify at least three complementary axes of resistance: 1- Legality: try to seek dialogue with the powers that be by using all available legal avenues. The idea is to add pressure through petitions, taking action, litigation, media coverage, protests or authorised strikes... 2- Self-sufficiency: break off dialogue with the authorities by creating small communities or informal groups. The idea is to implement change in a self-sufficient way and to make others want to change, for example, through buying groups, community vegetable gardens, shared housing, networks of exchange, autonomous communities... 3- Non-violent civil disobedience: legitimate, albeit illegal resistance while continuing talks with the authorities. This type of resistance takes on the role of a counter-weight by shining a light on wrongdoings and forcing change. As for types of illegal resistance that use violence in their fight against democratic or anti-democratic powers, we have chosen not to delve deeper into it, even though there are countless examples of them and they deserve an in-depth analysis.


Let's try to identify some of the conditions that could justify civil disobedience and make it legitimate. First of all, it is important to mark out the framework. It is certainly not about taking action based on your own self-interest or about imposing your desires on others. Disobedience should aim to establish honourable justice based on reason, on collective well-being and on the common good, otherwise, we run the risk of adding one injustice to another or responding to one arbitrary law with another arbitrary law. Disobedience isn’t a gateway to chaos. Gandhi said that disobedience had to be constructive, in other words, that it should offer several, concrete, sustainable, suitable alternatives. Disobedience may be a duty, but it should be guided by noble intentions and remain constructive. It should improve or reinvent our democracies, but without destroying them.


However, civil disobedience can’t take on just any old form. Over the last century, many people have used the illegitimacy of a law to promote the need for change. Among them are Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. In fact, in this documentary, Satish Kumar and Samdhong Rinpoché both reference Gandhi who said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” With this seemingly simple phrase, Gandhi wanted to convince us that we can't expect the answer to problems to come from something external, such as companies, politicians or NGOs, but above all there must be an internal shift of our own perception of the problem. Most of us see conflict as an opposition between good and evil. Gandhi encourages us to break away from that duality of our consciousness and understand that we ourselves are full of contradictions. Simply put, there is no “other”, no wrong-doer, no enemy or external evil versus “I” representing innate truth and goodness. Conflict is simply a representation of what is within each and every one of us. It is therefore important to first understand your own weaknesses, limits, contradictions, and suffering in order to accept them in both yourself and others. This allows us to seek a kind of symbiosis and to promote collective change rather than condemn others or judge them. This step towards reconciliation with yourself and others is fundamental.


This implies that civil disobedience must maintain two avenues in order to take positive steps towards consciousness and what’s right. First of all, it highlights that there’s strength in numbers. Taking action together and trusting each other is believing that change is possible and encouraging change in others. Secondly, it is based on the same principle of non-violence advocated by all of the big names in the civil disobedience movement, starting with Martin Luther King who supported aspects of it: 1- Non-violence is true active resistance. There’s a strength in being spiritually and emotionally active from within and shows your opponent that they're on the wrong path. 2- It seeks to mend fences, is done in a respectful manner without humiliating your opponent, and tries to make them sympathetic to your cause. 3- The fight is directed at the conflict itself rather than the people working on this conflict, because it is the conflict that we want to stamp out. 4- The non-violent resistance fighter is willing to put up with violence without retaliating. This acceptance also attracts more collective participation (even for the opponents) to the cause. 5- Non-violence is also an inner quest based on love. It consists of finding human brotherhood again by breaking the vicious circles of violence and hate. Whoever hurts me, hurts himself first.


As Lyllou Chevalier explains, one of the courses of action of the Extinction Rebellion movement is to collectively respond to an illegitimate law with non-violent direct action. The aim is to show authorities that they’re promoting the interests of a small (powerful) group in society to the detriment of the common good. These direct illegal actions play the role of a counterforce, but are not, however, criminal. In order to be meaningful, these direct actions of civil disobedience must meet a few criteria: Aside from the collective nature, non-violent tactics and constructive aspect that were already discussed, we should add: that the illegal aspect temporarily eludes the law; that public action is taken to garner as much attention as possible; that taking action is a complementary addition to the already legal route of holding talks and putting pressure on authorities; and that the opposition is aware of and willing to assume the risk of being sanctioned, thereby testifying to their commitment to the law, even if they're denouncing one particular law.

Collective resistance

We shouldn’t expect a paradigm shift to come from political awakenings, sudden corporate awareness, a unique, eminently enlightened figure, nor any kind of magic. These changes will come from dynamic groups and citizens who, in turn, will raise awareness among politicians and large companies. However, first and foremost, this requires an awakening of individual consciousness, and by joining forces and pooling our different kinds of intelligence, we will be able to catalyse change for the common good and sustain it. The collective can galvanise individuals: it can unleash their full power!

The most famous example is still probably the Salt March, started by Gandhi on 12th March 1930. Joined by only 79 companions, he set out to reach the ocean by foot as an act of disobedience and to collect water from the sea to illegally make salt, which was usually taxed by the British. All along the 390-km stretch that separated them from the ocean, they were gradually joined by tens of thousands of Indians. Remaining loyal to Gandhi’s guidance, this movement remained non-violent. Gandhi and 60,000 other Indians were arrested by the British. Gandhi was finally released after nine months in prison. This act would contribute to the fall of the British colonial regime in India.

Is our current crisis not being exacerbated by civil obedience rather than by resistance?

Today, there’s a feeling of mistrust among citizens on all fronts. The Zones to Defend (ZAD in French) are cropping up in every country and becoming symbols of resistance. Many initiatives are bringing about change or inspiring a collective movement. For example, Cédric Herrou was helping migrants, Carola Rackete was saving people in the Mediterranean and docking ships in spite of the ban, José Bové was involved in uprooting GM crops, Greta Thunberg encouraged students to skip school to condemn environmental crises, whistle-blowers have risked their lives by exposing the truth... To conclude, it doesn’t really matter if these acts of resistance are legal, illegal, collective or individual. To be at one with yourself, others and the rest of Nature, everyone should be part of the change that they feel is legitimate, in order to become a responsible, active, critical and supportive citizen. However, safeguards should be maintained to avoid our democracies being destroyed or being plunged into social chaos...

• Legality
• Legitimacy
• Opposition
• Non-violence
• Civil disobedience
• Non-Violent Direct Action
• Being part of the change
• Strength in numbers



global [in]equality

Teaching pack coordinated by the CNCD; 19 educational tools designed by 15 associations to deconstruct the mechanisms that create or reinforce global inequality with teenagers (aged 15+). The CNCD also offers different activities.


Game and educational guide created by the non-profit organisation Quinoa in 2018. This game uses the participants’ experiences to help get to the heart of what drives and inspires them, all the while leaving room for discussion and action. Debate toolkit on request:


Game co-produced by Quinoa-Oxfam-RDC in 2016. Also called La puissance du collectif (Strength in Numbers), this game strengthens understanding of citizen-led initiatives and makes them more tangible. Wonderful... Debate toolkit on request:

Esprit critique (Critical Thinking) / Canopé - Scérén

An educational kit to develop students’ critical thinking. Tools and methods using 20 very detailed, turnkey training sessions about cross-cutting issues (analyse, check, debate, reason, challenge...).

Résister et apprendre / Symbiose 110, Réseau Idée

Symbiose, a magazine for teachers and educators, features a world that’s being torn apart and a downtrodden democracy, but environmental resistance is cropping up all over the place. Explore the concepts with lots of educational tools. Available to download on

La politique ? Marre de s’en foutre !

Educational kit by Oxfam (2018). Seeks to empower
young people to discover the power of their actions and
constructively change their schools from within.

Désobéissance civile / "Annoncer la couleur" programme

This file encourages you to address the topic of civil disobedience with people aged 16+. Available to download on

La désobéissance civile pour (re)trouver le chemin de la démocratie / Barricade non-profit

In-depth overview on disobedience as a tool for (positive)
change. Available to download on

Éduquer : dossier spécial désobéissance, n°139 / La Ligue de l’enseignement (The Education League)

Understanding why, when and how civil disobedience has
taken steps to achieve democracy. Available to download


Cinq discours pour désobéir / Philippe Godard

These Five Speeches by Chief Joseph, De Gaulle, Gandhi, Thoreau and La Boétie come from very different times and contexts, but they have one thing in common: they opt for disobedience to try to escape injustice.

Résistance ! / Antoine Peillon

Rejecting populism as well as the dictatorship of the market, this new civic resistance is sought and built up in the Zones to Defend, alternative organic workshops and communities... The aim of this essay is to intellectually nurture a spontaneous movement amongst outraged citizens in order to re-align resistance with hope.

The Path to Hope / Stéphane Hessel and Edgar Morin

In this work, these two great thinkers and former resistance fighters invite us to form a citizen movement and an uprising of consciousness. Lots of hope!

The Roots of Heaven / Romain Gary

Probably one of the first adventure novels to deal with ecology in an exceptional way. We join Morel, a former resistance fighter, on a frantic struggle for the survival of elephants. A must-read masterpiece!


Animal Castle #1 / Xavier Dorison

This utopia, based on Orwell’s dystopian Animal Farm, shows us that non-violent actions allow for cooperative and participatory power to be established. A fantastic, captivating read.

Plogoff / Delphine Le Lay

A nuclear power plant is being set up in the small Breton village of Plogoff. Inhabitants rally together, but this is just the beginning of a long struggle. A great little guide about resistance in all its forms.


Leader-sheep / Christian Rouaud

This documentary tells the story of the struggle between some farmers in the Lazarc Plateau against the State to save their land. A resolute, joyful, but sometimes also gruelling and risky struggle..

Plus :

‣ Gandhi 

‣ Invictus (Mandela) 

‣ Selma (Martin Luther-King)



Would you like to learn more about civil disobedience?
In most countries, there are associations that provide training and information. Here are some of them:

‣ Agir pour la paix (BE)

‣ Collectif des désobéissants (FR)

Depending on your interests and level of commitment, many organisations are looking for volunteers, campaigners and activists. Here are some of them :

‣ Friends of the Earth
‣ Extinction Rebellion
‣ Stop Ecocide
‣ Greenpeace
‣ Amnesty International
‣ Natagora
‣ Doctors Without Borders
‣ Transparency International
‣ and so many others...

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